2016-03-31 / Front Page

Budget doesn’t need traditional council approval

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The town council is beginning its budget discussions with Town Manager Larry Mead scheduled to present his proposed spending plan on Tuesday, April 5.

Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said each department leader will present a proposed budget to the council during workshop sessions from April 13 to May 25, with the council’s final adoption of the budget tentatively scheduled for June 7.

Although the town manager’s budget has yet to be presented to the council, Reid said Mead and Finance Director Diana Asanza “have a very meticulous hand on it.”

The school budget for Regional School Unit 23 is scheduled to be presented to the council on April 26. However, since the school district is a regional school unit instead of a municipal school administrative unit, it follows a different process for budget approval.

When Saco and Dayton withdrew from the RSU last year, Old Orchard Beach became the only municipality still remaining. Even though the RSU comprises only one municipality, it still operates as a “regional” school unit.

Unlike Saco and Biddeford, where the city councils must approve the total amount for the school budget, the budget for RSU 23 is not subject to final approval by the Old Orchard Beach Town Council.

“Usually they just present the budget to the town council,” as an informational presentation, Reid said.

Instead of town council approval, the RSU’s budget is presented to a regional budget meeting that is conducted in the style of a town meeting. Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said the RSU process gives voters the ability to directly amend the budget before it goes out to a subsequent referendum for approval.

“It’s like a town meeting,” McLaughlin said, “where voters can go – this is where they can make amendments to the budget. They can make a motion to raise it or lower it and majority rules. It’s the only opportunity for voters to make changes and the only opportunity to move that budget at all.”

McLaughlin said the regional budget meeting has resulted in changes to the school budget in the past, but not by large amounts.

This year, however, McLaughlin said there will be a question on the ballot asking voters whether they want to continue having the school budget approved by referendum annually. If the voters choose to do away with the referendum, then the regional budget meeting will be the final approval of the budget.

“The only problem with that is, we have over 7,000 voters and only 23 people make decisions at the budget meeting,” she said. “Then it comes to referendum.”

In July 15, 2014, the first year that Old Orchard Beach was the sole member of the RSU, the school referendum failed and another referendum had to be held at a later date.

McLaughlin said before the RSU was formed, Old Orchard Beach’s school budget had to be approved by the town council. Now, however, it is the participants of the regional budget meeting, not the town council, that approve the budget before sending it to referendum.

The regional budget meeting has even more authority with the school budget than the town council did. When the town council approved school budgets, it could only approve the bottom line but not amend it.

McLaughlin said future school budgets will be interesting to follow if voters this year choose not to continue approving the budgets by referendum.

“If they vote no and discontinue, then whoever shows up at that regional budget meeting has the final say,” McLaughlin said. “A no vote will discontinue the budget validation referendum and provide instead that the final budget will be approved at the town budget meeting.”

The question on whether to continue validating the school budget by referendum will appear on the ballot in the primary election June 14, along with a question asking voters to approve the 2016-2017 school budget.

Reid said even though the RSU doesn’t technically need the council’s approval for its budget, administrators try to work with the town to make sure taxpayers aren’t negatively impacted.

“They still want to please the council on it,” Reid said.

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